Golf Handicap Explained: How Does It Work? [2021 Update!]

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How Does Golf Handicap Work Main Image

You may have heard of handicapping in golf and be wondering how the golf handicap works. If this is the case we’ve got your covered with our complete guide.

A key component of playing golf is understanding how the golf handicap works. By understanding exactly how the golf handicap works, you will have a full understanding of your golf level, how it is calculated and where you stand compared to other golfers.

In our guide we go into the topic in detail. We’ll explain how the golf handicap works, how to calculate a handicap both manually and with calculator & also provide some simple golf tips to improve your scores.

See also: Golf Handicap Calculator

How does the golf handicap work?

The first port of call is the fully understand everything about handicapping in golf and why it is important to fully understand how it works. In this first section we will answer the question ‘how does the golf handicap work?’, explain the benefits and give you some facts and statistics about the system from golfers around the world.

Overview: Golf Handicap Explained

In Summary: The golf handicap gives a numerical measurement of a golfers playing ability – Wikipedia 

To start it is best to give you an explanation of exactly what the golf handicap is and why it came about.

Basically, the golf handicap system was introduced by the United States Golf Association and the system calculates the rating of golf scores against certain criteria. This calculation gives a numerical measure of a golfer’s ability.

The reason that the golf handicap system is tried and tested amongst golfers is that it can accurately compute the total number of strokes allotted to golf players of all ranges.

With roughly 24 million golfers in the US alone (NGF), this means that there are a large amount of people with golf handicaps.

there are roughly 24 million golfers in the us alone

Starting out many beginner golfers can find it hard understanding the difficulty of a hole, what the index is and what the expected score for the hole is. However, by having an accurate golf handicap you can precisely understand your expected score for that particular hole and then for the round in total.

Therefore for golfers of all abilities it can provide a great guide as to what your playing level and ability is compared to other golfers.

What is the maximum golf handicap?

maximum golf handicap

Typically a beginner golfer will play from the maximum handicap when starting out.

Currently under the USGA handicap system the maximum golf handicap for a male golfer is 36.4. The current maximum golf handicap for a female golfer under the USGA system is currently 40.4.

However, in 2020 there will be an introduction of a new golf handicap system called the world handicap system. Currently, there are several separate handicap bodies such as the USGA and R&A. The new system will mean that there is an increased maximum for both male & female golfers.

Once the new golf handicap system becomes active the new maximum golf handicap for both men and women will be 54.0.

What is The Average golf handicap?

average golf handicap

Often golfers want to compare their scores to others which leads them to ask what is the average golf handicap?

The average golf handicap is between 13-15 (USGA)

If your golf handicap is in this range you are roughly around the equivalent of a bogey golfer.

From the same statistics, it appears that less than 1% of golfers are scratch golfers and around 30% will have a golf handicap of 10 or under which is considered to be a very good handicap for an amateur golfer.

Establishing A Golf Handicap

Getting your handicap is easy and is simple to get started.

Typically the steps to establishing a handicap are to join a golf course that is licensed and then you simply need to keep a track of your golf scores using their system or an app such as hole19. This is possible at a range of golf course types and not just exclusive to country clubs or private courses.

The best way to get started would be to ask a member of staff at the course about if they offer golf handicapping services.

Read our full guide on how to get a golf handicap.

How is my golf handicap calculated?

It is valuable skill for golfers to have a basic understanding of how to calculate a golf handicap for yourself. Below we will go through the golf handicap calculation in full.

Step 1 of the calculation is the following:
(Score – Course Rating) x 113 (this is the average slope rating of a golf course)/ Slope Rating = x

So using the figures in the below golf handicap calculator example that would be:
(100 – 72.9) x 113 / 128 = 23.92

This result is defined as the ‘handicap differential’. When calculating a handicap it is essential to include a minimum of five differentials and a maximum of twenty.

If you are using five differentials to calculate your golf handicap then you would use the lowest one for the final calculation.

The final calculation is to multiply your differential by 0.96 so in the above example  23.92 x 0..96 so the handicap index would be 22.9.

Fortunately, if you prefer you may use a pre-made golf handicap calculator such as ours below to figure out your handicap using your scores, course ratings and slope ratings (these should be available on your relevant golf course website.)

Try our calculator

You can calculate your handicap easily below by filling in information from your previous golf rounds:


18 Hole Score:

Course Rating:

Course Slope:


Your Golf Handicap is:

Improving Your Handicap

Now that you have a strong overview of how handicapping in golf works we want to provide you with some tips that will allow your game to flourish next time that you step out onto the course. Reducing your score may take some time but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some quick wins that you can implement to your game.

Tip #1: Practice putting to reduce three putts

Now you’ve figured out how does the golf handicap work let’s look at some ways you can get the best score possible.

So many amateur golfers overlook their putting when it comes to practice time. What they tend to forget is that by having a solid putt you could probably shave anywhere from up to 5 shots a round off your score.

Three putts are the worst and are something that no golfer enjoys so check out some of the below exercises to start working on your putting game:

Tip #2: Practice accuracy

Now how many times have you been to the driving range and you see people out with the driver just trying to hit it as far as they can.

Sure when golf holes can be 400-500 yards, distance has some merit… BUT inaccuracy is a huge cause of bogeys during a round.

Would you rather hit it 200 yards and on the fairway or 250+ yards and in the tree’s or out of bounds?

How do I improve my golf accuracy?

When you go to the driving range aim at specific targets instead of just general spaces.

This is something that the pro’s do on tour even when they are playing their rounds.

Instead of aiming for a general space in the fairway, they’ll target a specific area (often on the left or right side) and aim there.

Tip #3: Play with lower handicappers

It can be deflating and lower morale to always play with people who have a lower handicap than you.

However, what it does present is a great opportunity to learn.

Learn from their swing, talk to them, watch their routines.

It all adds up to a better round of golf for you going forward.

Tip #4: Invest in good equipment

It’s true, good equipment doesn’t come cheap so new golfers tend to settle for old equipment which is often at the detriment of good scoring.

If you are serious about improving your game and moving from beginner status then eventually should have a good set of golf clubs in your golf bag.

Tip #5: Maintain your focus

Golf can be a long game with the average round taking anywhere around 4 hours.

This is a long time to maintain focus and consistency and is a major culprit in lost shots throughout a golf round.

So how can you maintain your focus during your golf round?

Firstly, stay hydrated and well fed during your round to keep concentration levels up.

Secondly, don’t rush your shots. Keep a strict routine for each shot and keep things nice, slow and relaxed to maintain focus and reduce lost shots.

Check out this pre-shot routine for some ideas:

Tip #6: Track your progress

Staying on top of your game is imperative to keep on improving.

Nowadays this can be easily done through a range of golf apps.

One that we love is hole19 as it has a gps rangefinder to help you throughout your round. However, in terms of your golf handicap what we love is that you can easily record your scores to produce stats that are important to track such as greens in regulation, driving accuracy, putting averages etc.

Handicapping In Golf: Summary

Having a handicap in golf doesn’t need to be as complicated as it may appear at first. The great thing about the system is that it enables you to not only view your skill level but also to measure it. Thanks to handicapping in golf you are also able to compete in contests against players of a higher skill level thanks to the different methods of golf scoring.

Additionally, it is easy to track what your handicap is when you use a simple golf handicap calculator.